Hummingbird species include some of the tiniest, most agile birds in the world. Colorful, delicate, captivating to watch, these birds can be spotted in deserts, prairies, mountains and, most commonly, tropical rainforests. Their homes in their ranges are rarely secure. Many thrive in the environments that have been their sanctuaries for years; other hummingbirds struggle to make their way in habitats that are constantly intruded upon by humanity.
Hummingbirds are endemic to the Western Hemisphere, specifically North and South America. Different varieties make homes as far north as the southeastern edge of Alaska and as far south as the southernmost regions of Chile. That said, most hummingbirds congregate in warmer, tropical climates year-round. In fact, out of 320 unique species of hummingbirds, 12 make a habit of summering in North America and migrating to tropical regions during the winter season.
Hummingbirds settle everywhere from sea level habitats all the way up to regions 16,500 feet above. What's most important is that the birds have access to fundamental resources like water, as they spend much time bathing and preening. They must also have access to adequate nourishment, usually in the form of nectar drawn from odorless tubular flowers and vibrant, colorful blossoms. Some estimates indicate that hummingbirds must consume nectar from up to 2,000 flowers every day in order to sustain their extraordinarily high metabolism.
Threats to Habitat
Because of far-reaching global climate changes that affect temperatures in hummingbird habitats, hummingbirds are being forced to alter their migratory patterns. This means a number of hummingbird species are being spotted in locales far outside their normal migratory range, some of which don't carry the abundance of food the birds need to survive. What's more, while many hummingbirds are becoming accustomed to the presence of humans, the speed at which human populations expand causes further infringement upon and loss of hummingbird habitats.
Lending a Hand
Oddly enough, the very humans who are part of the threat to hummingbird populations can help to remedy the challenges they face. Keep hummingbird feeders in your yard or along your window boxes, or grow flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds. Set up fountains and birdbaths in your garden. These measures can help to revive hummingbirds during and after their arduous migratory journeys.
Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.